Boris Johnson appeared set to avoid the initial fallout by becoming the first prime minister to be hit with criminal penalties while in office at a birthday party thrown for him in Downing Street against Covid rules.
The Prime Minister, his wife and the Chancellor all apologized on Tuesday and confirmed they had paid fines imposed by the Metropolitan Police for a party held on June 19, 2020 to mark Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday.
Mr Johnson said it ‘didn’t occur to him’ that the gathering might breach Covid rules, while Rishi Sunak said he understood that ‘for public service figures, the rules must be strictly enforced in order to maintain public confidence”.
But although both politicians said they now accept the rules had been broken, neither seemed to consider their positions as they said they wanted to continue the job.
Cabinet ministers tweeted in support of Mr Johnson, praising his leadership during Covid and Brexit and also highlighting the war in Ukraine.
Even the Prime Minister’s critics seemed to accept that now was not the time for a leadership race.
However, Mr Johnson has not ruled out the possibility that he could be fined again for other events.
He reportedly attended six of the 12 people under investigation.
Speaking to Checkers broadcasters, Mr Johnson said: ‘There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2 p.m. which lasted less than 10 minutes, during which the people I work with kindly conveyed their good wishes.
“And I have to say in all honesty at the time that it didn’t occur to me that it could have been a breach of the rules.”
He added: “I now humbly accept that I was.
“But I think the best thing I can do now is, after paying the fine, to focus on the job at hand. That’s what I’m going to do.”
When asked if he thought he would face any further fines, he said the media would be among the first to know.
Mr Sunak said: ‘I apologize unreservedly.
“I understand that for personalities exercising a public function, the rules must be applied with rigor in order to maintain public confidence. I respect the decision that was made and I paid the fine.
“I know people have sacrificed a lot during Covid, and they will find this upsetting. I deeply regret the frustration and anger caused and I’m sorry.
“As the Prime Minister, I am focused on delivering for the British people at this difficult time.”
A spokesman for Carrie Johnson said: ‘While she believed she was acting within the rules at the time, Ms Johnson accepts the findings of the Metropolitan Police and apologizes unreservedly.
The latest fines came in a new round of Fixed Fines (FPNs) announced by Scotland Yard in relation to Operation Hillman, which is investigating possible Covid breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall.
More than 50 fines have been sent to Acro’s criminal record since the start of the investigation.
The FPNs received by Mr and Mrs Johnson and Mr Sunak were linked to the June 2020 birthday party at which, according to Northern Ireland Minister Conor Burns, Mr Johnson was “ambushed with a cake”.
Reports suggested that up to 30 people attended the party and sang Happy Birthday in the Cabinet Room.
The progress of the police investigation will again raise the specter of the Sue Gray Report, a dossier on the gatherings compiled by senior civil servant Ms Gray which was blocked by the Met’s launch of the investigation.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Ms Gray’s full report could be out as soon as next week, when MPs return to the Commons after recess.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, said the police decision marked the “first time in the history of our country that a Prime Minister has been found guilty of breaking the law”.
Speaking in Preston, he accused Mr Johnson of lying ‘repeatedly’ about what happened behind No 10’s famous black door.
Sir Keir also argued that the Tory leader and Mr Sunak had ‘disgraced’ the sacrifices made by Britons who followed the rules during the pandemic.
“The British public made the most unimaginable and heartbreaking sacrifices, and many were overwhelmed with guilt,” he said.
“But the culprits are the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
“Britain deserves better, they have to go.”
Labor joined the chorus of demands for the Commons to be recalled from its two-week Easter recess and allow Mr Johnson to ‘hand in his resignation’ in person to MPs.